TOC Editor Terry Xu submitted a letter to the Straits Times Forum in response to another letter published on the forum on 29 September 2019, written by Ms Chng Huiling. However, ST seems to have passed on publishing Terry’s response.
In her letter (TOC must clarify its intentions, 29 September), Ms Chng had said that it was “disturbing” that TOC’s criticising Singapore were “masqueraded as pieces written by Singaporeans when in fact the writers were foreigners”.
She also questioned why Terry would allow foreigners to write negative articles about Singapore and pass them off as being written by Singaporeans. She wondered if TOC would, from now on, openly declare when articles are written by foreigners and if TOC can assure its readers that it will not “lie” about its writers’ backgrounds again.
Intending to respond to Ms Chng’s questions, Terry said in the letter he submitted to ST that Ms Chng’s allegations are categorically untrue and baseless.
He added, “If one were to look at the internet records of TOC’s description, one will note that we have declared upfront since 2017 that while we had been supported by local volunteers over the decade but we have since made a few changes to ensure the sustainability of our operations.”
He also explained that when asked by a member of the public earlier this year about the staffing of TOC, he ”did not shy away from confessing that TOC does hire foreign staff due to lack of resources”.
“Therefore, Ms Chng’s comments about TOC and myself have caused unfair damage to TOC’s reputation,” he asserted.
Earlier on, this letter by Ms Chng was removed by ST after Terry had sent a letter of demand to the editors of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) on 30 September demanding that they take it down. They did.
Terry said in a Facebook post later explaining his letter of demand, “There has been a lot of insinuations made about The Online Citizen recently and this has caused members of the public to hold untrue views of the site.”
“I do not fault the writer for having the views that she had but ST should have known better than to publish a letter that contains falsehoods especially when it refers to itself as the best antibiotics to “fake news”.”
However, following Terry’s post on Facebook, SPH wrote to him saying that the remarks he made on the post were “unfair and uncalled for” and that it has damaged the site’s reputation as a trusted media organisation.
It noted that the original letter was removed out of goodwill and without any admission of liability. Now, however, it has taken legal advice and reposted the original letter on 2 October.
After that, Terry submitted a letter on 3 October in response to Ms Chng’s original forum letter but appears that ST has chosen not to publish Terry’s response.
Terry did not hide anything when asked
On 17 May, a story was published on Singapotato in which the author talked about TOC staff. Specifically, the author highlighted a post by someone on Facebook (15 May) in which they asked Terry why many of TOC’s Facebook page managers were not in Singapore and why foreigners are hired to write for the site.
Terry replied, “Why not? It is cheaper. 20 managers if you pay them 2000 a month, that’s S$40,000 a month. TOC only has an income of 5k a month. You tell me how to balance it off if all the TOC fanpage managers are paid SG rates.”
Terry went on to clarify that some reporters in Singapore have asked for a salary of S$4,000 a month, something the site simply cannot afford to pay. He also noted that the Singapore government cannot intimidate foreign TOC staff.
When asked about what these foreign talents do, Terry simply said, “What you see on the site is what the team produces.”
While the article by Singapotato goes on to question if Terry is hiding anything in terms of foreign talent and funding, Terry has continued to assert TOC’s independence.
Update 18.10.2019, 9.25AM: Straits Time responded to say they have published Terry’s letter on the ST Forum this morning, around 7AM. The letter is titled ‘Forum: TOC has been upfront about operations‘. The forum editor responded in the email to Terry, stating “We were planning to publish your letter to let you have your response to the forum writer, as is our usual practice.”